The 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day invites us to see what we have achieved so far as individuals and as a society. Within the last 100 years, among other achievements, women have gained the right to vote, access to public life and guaranteed maternity leave. In 67 countries there are laws mandating equal pay for men and women. In general women became more aware of their rights and ways to name and identify gender discrimination. Most women’s lives have improved, and no doubt women have changed, but society is slower to move forward. Cultural practices, institutions and the collective mindset are still imbued with behaviour that is dominated by patriarchy.
This is why no matter how much we hear and speak of the advancement of women in society, women are not yet equally represented in governments around the world or in decision making positions in most public or private institutions. In Canada there is a lack of women involved at the higher levels of government and corporations. Throughout the world, women’s voices do not always count, as is the case in arranged and forced marriages. Women are still the victims of gender violence that ranges from slight insults to the most horrendous sexual, psychological and physical abuse and crimes. Many women carry a double or triple workload taking care of the home, taking care of children, their partner and in some cases parents while holding down full time jobs.
What has PWRDF done? Organizationally we walked the path of developing a policy on gender and an implementation plan. Staff and partners have grown a lot through this process but still have a long way to go. On a programmatic level gender is a crosscutting component and we continue to support partners’ efforts as they address women’s practical, immediate needs such as improving access to services like health, education and financial services among others. On a much smaller scale PWRDF engages with partners’ gender work on strategic needs, challenging inequalities in division of labour, land tenure, ownership and control of resources, and decision making power in larger structures in society such as government and public spheres.
In an attempt to impact policies and laws and to make strategic, long term changes at the structural level, PWRDF has supported organizations in Latin America and Asia doing research and advocacy on women’s social, cultural, political and labour rights, such as the right to land ownership and title, and the right to job security during and after pregnancy. In responding to women’s and girls’ immediate, practical needs, PWRDF has sustained partners’ projects: in Africa, opening doors to micro-credit funds, micro-enterprises, strengthening health, sanitation and nutrition; in Asia, initiatives developing food security, preventing violence against women, and strengthening the role of women in peace efforts; and in Canada, empowering girls, 9-16 years old, in the Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) in Northern Ontario where youth learn to change risky behavior and develop a healthier approach to life.
With the support of our constituency PWRDF continues to sustain the development of partners’ capacity to promote the advancement of women’s’ strategic and practical needs. I believe most will agree that there is still much to do.
Jeannethe Lara is PWRDF’s Africa Development Program Coordinator